Partnership II: The Lone Wolf

A couple of posts ago, I talked about job-hunting as a team and the advantages of that. I'd say that if you have a partner you get along with, work well with, and can find a job with, that's ideal. But the reality is that for most people, you'll be going it alone. That doesn't mean that partnership won't play into your job search. No matter where you end up, you'll most likely have a partner. So here are a few things to consider when speaking with agencies.

1) Does the agency assign permanent partners?
At most agencies, art directors and writers are teamed up permanently. However, in some agencies (like mine), everyone works with everyone else, rotating partners from project to project. There are pros and cons to both.

Everyone has a different working style, so in a rotating partner system, you have to take time to settle in and find a routine that works with each partner. That routine is often different from partner to partner. For instance, sometimes you and your partner may do all of your thinking together, where other times you may do it separately and then meet to share your thoughts. Each time I work with a new partner, I like to have this discussion up front. Ask them "How do you like to work?"

Rotating partners can be logistically tough when people start going on production, vacation, or to meetings. For instance, you might be in the office covering meetings for one project while your partner is on a shoot in Sydney, and another partner for another project is at a client meeting in New York. With technology, communication is no problem, but if you like to sit in the coffee shop and concept in person with your partner, it can be frustrating when schedules get hectic.

Still, I find that I like rotating partners because it keeps the thinking fresh. Everyone brings a different point-of-view, and everyone has a different style. Plus, there's less chance of "partner burnout."

2) Is the agency hiring you to be someone's partner?
If you're interviewing with an agency, do they have someone in particular to be your partner? Ask them. Do some research on the person. Where are they from? How much experience do they have? What kind of work do they do? Definitely meet with the person. Grab a beer or lunch and see what your chemistry's like. You'll be attached at the hip to this person, so who they are can be as important as who the agency is.

3) If the agency hasn't hired a partner for you yet, what's the plan?
How long do they expect until they hire someone to be your partner? Any prospects? Will you have any say in who they hire? These are important questions. Without overstepping your bounds, let them know that you'd like to be as involved as possible in their selection of your partner. Be wary of the agency that promises to hire you a partner sometime in the near future. They should be searching for someone who would ideally start the same time you do.

Like most people, I did not find my first with a partner. My agency assigned me one. He was a great guy who had been in the business for a couple of years and taught me a lot of the stuff you don't get in school (client meetings, presenting work, production, etc.). We worked together for four years before parting ways. Now that I'm in a rotating partners system, I'd say that it's really a toss-up as to which system is better. Just make sure you find a partner that you work well with. And speak up if it's not working. Agencies want happy, productive teams. If the chemistry's not right, find a new partner. Your partner is the most important person at the agency.